Mr. Chair, thank you very much.
Good morning to everybody. I'd like to begin by saying thank you for providing me with this opportunity to appear before you, my first such opportunity since the opening of the current Parliament.
I'm really pleased to have a couple of hours to spend with you, especially as there are some new members on the committee.
Let me tell you, I look forward to your questions, and I am more than happy to make my team of senior officers available to you as well. I will always be ready and willing to provide this committee with whatever information and support that it requires to do its important work.
Let me also say how pleased I am that you've decided to focus an in-depth study on readiness. It's an ambitious decision, I know, on your part, but I know it will lead to some very valuable discussions and recommendations.
From my point of view, readiness is definitely the most complex, and probably the least well understood, pillar of the four supporting pillars described in the Canada First defence strategy, the other three pillars being personnel, equipment, and infrastructure.
I can't stress enough how important it is to maintain a balance across these four pillars. Invest too little or too much in any of them and the result will be a military that is out of balance and unable to conduct the missions the government expects of it.
Of the four, readiness can often seem the least tangible, the hardest to quantify. It's the hardest to measure, but it's where the rubber hits the road for the Canadian Forces in terms of preparing our people to achieve the missions the government asks of them. It's what lets us take our investments in personnel, equipment, and infrastructure, and turn them into results where and when they're needed.
As General Jon Vance laid out for you on Tuesday, we believe you would benefit from hearing from the three groups within the defence team over the course of your study: the force generators, those being the commanders of the Royal Canadian Navy, the Royal Canadian Air Force, and the Canadian Army; the force employers, including the Canadian Expeditionary Force Command and Canada Command; and the senior leaders of the Defence team.
The generators are those who recruit, build, train, and maintain our forces. The force employers are the commanders who actually lead our sailors, soldiers, and airmen and airwomen to success in operations at home and abroad. The senior members of our integrated defence team represent the civilians and military personnel who work side by side to analyze the various options to find the right resource balance across the four pillars.
Each of these groups will approach the concept of readiness from their own perspective and with their own challenges.
No one player is more important or necessary than any other. Each plays an important role in getting the right person, with the right training, experience, equipment, team and support to the right location on time.
As for my own role here today, I aim to give you my perspective before you dive into each one of those respective areas of readiness. I want to talk about what readiness means to me as the person who actually delivers the effect on behalf of the Government of Canada, and how I think the Canadian Forces are doing in terms of overall readiness, particularly as we transition from a period of high operational tempo to a steadier state following the conclusion of our combat mission in Afghanistan this past summer.
Now, it's helpful to describe readiness using some of our recent operational experiences. Let me just reflect back over a year ago to January 2010. It was the January 12. I was flying back from Edmonton, where I was visiting soldiers who had been wounded in Afghanistan. I received a phone call indicating that an earthquake had just struck Haiti. The key infrastructure in Port-au-Prince was wiped out. The hospitals were destroyed or completely overrun with patients, and basic services such as electricity and clean water were offline. I spent the next few hours aboard the Challenger, but working with senior members of my staff and coordinating with the Minister of National Defence, our policy team, and other government departments, such that by early the next morning, at dawn, aircraft were up in the air at Trenton, after being loaded with emergency equipment and supplies, as well as highly trained personnel.
Canadians were among the first nations to arrive. Less than 24 hours after the earthquake had hit, we had search and rescue technicians, medics and firefighters on the ground in Haiti pulling people out of the rubble.
Within a few weeks we had deployed a 2,000 person disaster assistance joint task force.
Eventually, Operation HESTIA would comprise two ships, seven helicopters, infantry and logistics battalions, an engineers' squadron, a field hospital, and a 200-person disaster assistance response team.
Mr. Chair, the speed and scale of this response was a direct reflection of our investment in operational readiness. Our personnel, our leadership, and our equipment were up to the challenge. But it was our attention to readiness that put them in a posture to respond as quickly and effectively as they did, and allowed them to sustain these operations for two months until they returned to Canada.
It wasn't just the performance of our people in the operation itself but our focus beforehand on training, on the right equipment, on all the supply required, on maintenance of that equipment, and the regular cycling of our personnel through periods of high readiness to normal readiness and low readiness, in that cycle.
There's another example here at home. When Hurricane Igor struck eastern Newfoundland in September of last year, it washed out key roads and bridges, knocked out power across the province, and left residents isolated.
Once again, we were able to respond immediately, working in partnership with other federal departments and with the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador.
In all, we deployed over a thousand personnel from the army, navy and air force to help evacuate the injured; deliver food, water, fuel and medical supplies; re-establish power and transportation routes; and even rebuild a bridge in the community of Trouty.
What's particularly noteworthy on this one is that many of the folks on this operation were in the Primary Reserve Force. The reserve was front and centre—a reserve, where citizen soldiers who, with one phone call, dropped everything they were doing and were called into action. Their selflessness and dedication deserves admiration, both at home and abroad. But the fact that they had received their individual and collective training and that they could assemble and deploy immediately to deliver tangible and strategic effects in this kind of emergency was testament to their readiness.
Of course, we all remember this past spring how just a day after the UN Security Council authorized an arms embargo and a no-fly zone over Libya, we deployed six CF-18 fighter aircraft to the Mediterranean. Within days, those aircraft, pilots, and crew were able to join HMCSCharlottetown, which had itself deployed on exceptionally short notice earlier that month. But when the Charlottetown deployed, its crew thought it was going on a humanitarian mission to evacuate people. Indeed, we were putting it into a war zone. But that ship was ready because of the extraordinary training and preparation, indeed readiness, of that asset.
In the weeks and months that have followed, those assets, along with strategic airlift such as C-17s and C-130Js, and refuelling and surveillance aircraft such as the Aurora, conducted over 1,500 flight sorties and played a major role in an international effort to protect civilians, to enforce UN sanctions, and to ensure access of humanitarian assistance.
Mr. Chair, each of these examples demonstrates in a concrete way the value and meaning of readiness. The bottom line, Mr. Chair, is that readiness is the degree of preparedness and responsiveness of our forces that allows me to deploy them with little notice in response to government direction. It's the ability to get the right people, with the right skills and the right equipment, into the right place at the right time and to sustain that for as long as government requires.
That's certainly not something that just happens on its own.
You don't just achieve readiness by making good investments in personnel, equipment and infrastructure, although I can't overemphasize how important that is.
If you take the example of a soldier getting ready to deploy to Afghanistan, we have to ensure that we have the right person for the job, that we provide him or her with the best possible equipment, and that we base the person out of solid infrastructure. It takes literally thousands of hours of dedicated training, both by the soldiers and their leadership and instructors, to get them ready. It takes multiple phased exercises to build a team within their unit and to rehearse what they'll be doing. It takes a deliberate progression, through escalating levels of readiness, before they are prepared to head out the door and deliver real effects for Canada. All the while, it takes a specific, dedicated effort to evaluate and protect the physical and mental preparedness of each soldier, sailor, airman and airwoman, and their families, before and after the operation.
The individual's tour of stay in Afghanistan may last six to nine months, but the entire process of preparing them, supporting them, and bringing them to a state where they can begin the whole process again can take up to two years.
Mr. Chair, if you ask me how we're doing in maintaining our readiness, I'd say that we're doing the best we can with all the resources we have.
It's worth noting that of the six core missions set out for us by the government, we successfully carried out five simultaneously between January and March 2010. We conducted combat operations in Afghanistan. We supported the whole-of-government effort to provide security for the Vancouver Olympics. We responded, with 2,000 folks, to the earthquake in Haiti. We remained on guard and ready in the event of a terrorist event anywhere in Canada. And we conducted the regular patrols and search and rescue operations necessary to protect our national sovereignty. That's a level of performance we all take a lot of pride in.
Looking forward, however, we shouldn't expect that same level of operational readiness to simply be there whenever we need it. Readiness doesn't maintain itself: It is a perishable commodity, and it's expensive.
Maintaining the level of readiness required and expected of us by government will require a significant and sustained investment. It means repairing, refitting, and replacing some of our equipment, particularly the equipment that has experienced heavy wear and tear, such as all the kit coming back from Afghanistan.
It means rebuilding the health and strength of the units and personnel that were involved in these operations and investing in the necessary training to help our newer recruits fill gaps in key trades.
All the while, it means dealing with the rising cost of fuel, utilities, and other key inputs needed to maintain our readiness.
When I talk about readiness and where you start on readiness, we start with the missions that the Government of Canada has assigned us through the Canada First defence strategy, which lays out three key roles. First is excellence at home, with the defence of Canada and the sovereignty of Canada the priority. Second is being a strong, reliable partner with our United States allies, whether in terms of NORAD or other activities. Third is projecting leadership abroad. Those are the key levels of ambition as laid out in the Canada First defence strategy.
We then look at what forces are required for those tasks the government has given us. At home, in each of the major regions, we have a battalion--an immediate response unit--that's on eight hours' notice to move. It's a light battalion, so that they're ready to move out at any time, whether it's to put sandbags in Saint-Jean or Portage La Prairie—or, indeed, to be the first folks on the ground in an ice storm.
We also have people who are ready on high notice for search and rescue. On any given day, we have about three missions a day. This past weekend we were reminded of how dangerous it is, and our thoughts and prayers are with the family of Sergeant Janick Gilbert.
We also have ready-duty ships on each coast, which are ready, in eight hours, from notice to power-up, to move out. We have surveillance aircraft at high readiness, as well as fighter aircraft at high readiness, in support of NATO.
Offshore we also maintain a battalion at high readiness for any mission the Government of Canada gives us. We also have a company group to support the evacuation of Canadians in situations such as what we saw a few years ago in Lebanon.
Our investment in the Canadian Forces' readiness really focuses on those operations.
Mr. Chair, let me conclude by re-emphasizing the value of this committee's study in helping the civilian and military leaders of the defence team find the right balance across the four pillars to ensure that we remain ready to respond to the needs of government and the needs of Canadians in the months and years to come.
As I said earlier, I'm more than happy to appear before you and have members of my team appear before you, as well, to help inform your study.
Thank you very much.
I'm happy to take your questions.
Sir, thank you for the question.
Again, in an ideal world, every piece of equipment would be brand new or on warranty. Every billet in all those ships, squadrons, and battalions would be filled with men and women with the right skill sets and the right experience, and they would never move; the equipment would never break; and all of the parts and all the ammunition would always be there. None of us lives in an ideal world. Some of our equipment is old. Some of our equipment is brand new. Whatever we do, we make the best use of and get the best value from every dollar the Canadian public gives us. As we look towards readiness, it is to ensure that high-readiness units have all of the assets they require for the types of missions that Canada will expect of them.
When the HMCSCharlottetown went out to the Mediterranean, we thought she was going on a humanitarian, non-combatant evacuation kind of mission in the Mediterranean. But, again, since we did not know the kind of mission she would take on, that ship was ready for war. We had to put the investments into that crew, into the equipment aboard that ship, into all of the spare parts and supplies and ammunition so that ship would be ready for that kind of fight. And, indeed, they were within kilometres of Misrata. They received artillery fire from shore and spotted for aircraft coming in. They were in the thick of it.
But while that ship was there at the high end of readiness—and as the commander of the Royal Canadian Navy, when he comes here, will explain to you—they have all of these other ships in the Halifax modernization program, which all remain in extended readiness as they are worked upon on both coasts. So what is that balance between the high readiness of the Charlottetown—and today it's HMCSVancouver and the great sailors on the Vancouver—and all these other ships, like HMCS Halifax, that are back in port being worked on? Every one of the service chiefs, like the commander of the Royal Canadian Navy, is maintaining the right balance and working with their civilian counterparts so that we have those ships, squadrons, and battalions ready to go somewhere. At the other end of the spectrum, the equipment, such as that coming back from Afghanistan, is going right into depot maintenance, so that we can turn it around as quickly as we can and have it back on the shelf or back with those troops so they're ready to go out the door again.
To use a line from a book that was popular about 20 years, we pay ourselves first; that is, we always have to ensure that we can afford our priority, which for us is those high-readiness units, followed by the normal-readiness units and then extended-readiness units, so that we can achieve the missions the Government of Canada asks us to.
I know that through Budget 2010 and Budget 2011, there are going to be changes to our funding envelope. But in my view, it's again going back to always being able to afford your priority. As we go through the transition and the great work that was done on the transformation report, we're looking for savings so that we can afford the priority. Again, I've received great support from the minister and from government. And as I work with the Canadian Forces' chief warrant officer, who is sitting here beside me, my priorities are to ensure that we safeguard the force of today, so that those men and women who are in Kabul, in Afghanistan today doing the training mission have all the training they need to do the job out there. It is knowing that Master Corporal Greff had all the training he needed to do the job out there. It's about ensuring that whether they're deployed there or up in the High Arctic, as Sergeant Gilbert was, they have all the equipment and all the training they needed, and we did the best we could do to ensure their success on those missions.
Secondly, it's to ensure things for the force of tomorrow. That's where the Canada First defence strategy is so key. It lays out a blueprint to ensure that we are purchasing the right ships, the right aircraft, and the right vehicles for the sons and daughters of Canada tomorrow, so that they can go into harm's way and be successful.
Finally, it's to ensure the care of our men and women of the Canadian Forces, for the wounded, the ill, and injured, and for the families of the fallen. Those are my three foundational rocks, if you will, of the force, as we go through this transition and are looking at the overhead and where we can make savings such that those three bedrock pieces remain the foundation.
An hon. member: I found that inspiring.
Thank you, sir, for your question.
Indeed, the key to our ability to do the six missions really does come from that balance, from making sure that we have a balance from the personnel, the equipment, the readiness, and the infrastructure standpoint. The answer to your question is yes, we do have the wherewithal to do the six missions simultaneously.
Keep in mind that the Canadian Forces in uniform numbers, in total, just below 100,000. Today, we're tracking in the order of 67,000 regular forces and about 25,000 reservists. Indeed, some of those are in training, but for the most part, they are a very strong, capable, trained, effective strength. How we have apportioned them, in terms of high readiness and normal readiness, allows us to react for those six missions.
As I mentioned in my text before, it was quite extraordinary that when we did our transformation back in 2005-06, we were getting the force ready for a period of time when, simultaneously, we'd be dealing with Afghanistan. At that time we did not have a full appreciation that it would be the kind of combat mission that it was. Having been the chief of transformation in 2005, we were setting up the organization to manage Afghanistan and manage the Olympics at the same time. The decisions were made and the new structure was put in place for February 1, 2006, as our troops were moving from Kabul down to Kandahar.
In the spring and summer of 2006, and especially that Labour Day weekend when Operation Medusa was fought, we realized that a stability operation had become a combat mission. We changed almost overnight, indeed over a few weeks and months, into a combat-capable force to be able to handle that mission.
At the same time, we were able to work with other government departments, especially the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, for the security of the Olympics. While we had 3,000 folks in Afghanistan, we mounted an operation of 4,500 men and women—air, land, sea, and special forces—in support of the RCMP and the organizers of the Vancouver Olympics.
We thought those would be the two major activities during that period of time, but we can never predict the future. In the midst of all of we had the terrible earthquake occur in Haiti. We have a disaster assistance relief team—it's about 200 folks—but we knew the devastation and loss of life was so cataclysmic that we needed to set up something more significant. We were prepared to send out a task force of 2,000 men and women. Again, I offer great credit to our search and rescue technicians, firefighters, and medics who were on the first aircraft and literally pulled people out of the rubble on the ground.
At the same time, while we did the Haiti mission, we ensured that we still maintained our sovereignty over Canada and that we were able to react to a terrorist event anywhere in Canada. All of that took this balance across all the lines. We also established priorities. One of the priorities that came out of the Canada First defence strategy was, Canada first, excellence at home. So where there's a question of a trade-off, Canada gets the nod.
Thank you for the question.
Mr. Chair, I would just say that this is one aspect of the little anecdotes that people hear about in terms of fatigue and high operational tempo, and so on. I just want to assure you—and again, the Canadian Forces' chief can come in here and pile on—that when we visit units from coast to coast to coast, the sailors, soldiers, airmen and women have all joined or signed up because they want to go somewhere, and they want to want to make a contribution to Canada, a contribution here at home and a contribution internationally. When we go and give our little talks, the chief and I, and we hand out a couple of coins and we do a town hall. The first question, no matter where we go is, “Sir, where are we going to go next? We want to go somewhere, where is it going to be?” And even when we're welcoming those folks home—they're on their way home and they haven't seen their loved ones yet—their first line to us is, “Sir, where is the next mission? I just want to know.”
I just want to say that it's not unique to this generation, but it's ever been thus. For every conflict to which this country has answered the call, Canadians have been coming through the doors saying, “We want to go somewhere.”
I still remember talking to a soldier from PPCLI , who was on the back side of Whistler during the Olympics on a snow machine providing protection. His question to the chief and I was, “How do I get from here to Haiti? I want to go from here to Haiti right away. How do I do that?”
A year and a bit ago, the chief and I were in Valcartier avec 5e Régiment du génie talking to a sergeant who was a counter-improvised explosive device operator, basically a bomb disposal senior NCO. He was identified because he was going on his fourth tour, but he had manipulated the system. He had done everything he could to get onto that tour.
So I just want to say that operational tempo affects people differently, because all men and women who are in uniform have different backgrounds and different family circumstances. Those who are young and are not yet married want to go somewhere right away. Senior NCOs and some of the officers who have had multiple tours have different family circumstances, and you have to moderate that somewhat.
But also, every time we come up with an operation, we have to ensure that we have the right kinds of teams going out the door to do the business.
I also want to comment on the fact that, as we talk about the Afghanistan mission nearly done, at this moment in time I have almost 2,000 men and women in Afghanistan. I have north of 1,200 in Kandahar still doing the mission transition task force. There is a lot of risk in what they do, and I never want to underestimate that risk.
Similarly, we have 925 men and women in Kabul, Mazar-e Sharif, and Herat, who are doing an essential mission, a priority mission in the training of the Afghan police and the Afghan army. As your cousin knows, it's a tough mission. As we just learned tragically this past weekend, it has high risk.
I just want to say that the men and women are doing a great job, whether it's at home.... And let me just say that I met a lot of search and rescue technicians on Saturday as we had the repatriation ceremony in Trenton for Sergeant Gilbert. They are all enthused about their mission, and they're courageous when they jump out the back of the aircraft into circumstances that one can only imagine, and at the same time they're saving lives.
But also, your cousin and all of those other folks in Kabul and in Trapani right now are defending Canada from 10,000 kilometres away. That's equally important. All of them want to be in uniform as volunteers to do the job for Canadians so that we can sleep well at night.
Let me first say thank you for the editorial, because I indeed still remember that when we were trying to get our forces into Kosovo back in 1999, the country from whom we were trying to rent strategic airlift would not allow us to land the aircraft where we needed to land. That was a wake-up call to people that we actually needed to have grey tail military aircraft to carry us to far-off places. And similarly, we launched troops
in the case of the 3rd Battalion of the Royal 22nd Regiment, in
East Timor in 1999. Again, we were looking for wide-body aircraft while everybody else was looking for aircraft as well, so we couldn't get the aircraft until much later on.
But that is just to say that I agree with you. Everything's expensive, and we in the Canadian Forces, working with all of government, try to find the best value for Canadians, whether it be a helicopter or a transport aircraft like the C-130J. It was great being in Trenton and seeing all the brand new C-130Js on the ramp and the C-17 on the ramp. Indeed, we try to look for the best value for Canada overall.
In terms of the details of the readiness of the services, I'll just say that this information is secret. So I won't go into detail on this kind of thing. I'll just say that the air force is always at the highest level of readiness, because for an aircraft to be fully safe from a flight safety perspective, it has to be at 100%. Whether it be a commercial aircraft, or a C-17, C-130J, helicopter, or fighter, it's got to be at 100%. Everything's got to work right away, because of the tolerances demanded of that aircraft in pulling three, four, or five Gs in combat. So generally, from a flight safety perspective, the air force is always at the highest level of readiness.
The navy and the army are generally similar in their percentage of folks who are at high readiness. In the army, generally, there's a battalion that is ready to go internationally. Similarly, as a factor in overall percentage, the navy with its ready-duty ships is generally at the same kind of percentage.
The army, because so much of its assets are in people, really doesn't have low readiness. It has normal readiness, whereas the navy's key assets are its ships, and the people, obviously, but the people don't float on their own, but need a ship. So when a ship goes into long-term maintenance, it's into an extended lower readiness period. So the navy, unlike the army, has this low readiness or extended readiness. For example, if you look at the HMCS Halifax, it will be in refit for a year. Indeed, when the submarine HMCS Victoria was dry dock and shipyard workers were working on it, the refit took years. Again, we'd not had a lot of work done on submarines on the west coast.
So I would say the most ready force is traditionally always the air force because of the high readiness requirements of flight safety. The army and the navy are about similar; but the navy, because of its business, is so equipment-oriented with regard to its ships that it actually has a low readiness status, while the army does not.
Hopefully, that answers your question, sir.